Data entry sucks. (Can I say that? I just did.) No business owner likes to have multiple databases that need to be kept up-to-date separately, manually, when they contain similar or overlapping data.
Why should a change in a client’s address, for example, need to be updated separately in five different databases?
It’s insane. Old world thinking.
In an accounting firm we’re consulting to at the moment, we identified 19 separate databases they need to keep up-to-date. Apart from the obvious waste of time and money, it’s frustrating for any business owner to need to stay on top of this and keep such a fragmented system intact.
One of the brilliant aspects of cloud computing is the automated sharing of data between apps. Some apps can push data to other apps, some can pull in data from other apps, some can do both push and pull.
When you first experience this, it’s pure heaven from efficiency and effectiveness standpoints.
Why? Because it eliminates time-wasting data entry and removes opportunities for errors. It also provides you with better, real-time data for decision making.
For example, imagine looking at a client record in your client database (often called customer relationship management or CRM software) and on the screen is displayed current and outstanding invoices, pulled live out of your accounting system. This important information is served up on a platter to you, almost as if these apps are working off the one master database in the background.
Or imagine writing a proposal for a client within your project management system, and then after the proposal is accepted, simply clicking a button to convert that information into an invoice in your accounting system.
Or imagine sending a survey to your clients and having their answers recorded in your client database and email marketing database.
Or imagine looking at an email from someone, and in the right sidebar of the screen is displayed a list of all their recent social media activity, their past purchases with you, current opportunities, a summary dossier of who they are, a list of conversations you’ve had with them, and other important information – all straight out of your CRM and social media networks, but you are still just in your email program.
It’s easy to achieve this.
A well-designed “app ecosystem” of connected cloud-based softare applications is crucial for efficient systems in any business.
When evaluating a cloud-based app, be sure to spend a good portion of your time seeing what integrations are available ‘off the shelf’ with other apps.
For example, check out the MailChimp Integrations Directory and the Xero Add-ons. The list of apps in each of these directories is astounding. Look for apps that are in both of these integration directories.
Why? Because in no time you will have connected your very own app ecosystem of cloud-based apps for your business, where data flows efficiently between apps, saving you time, money and headaches.
These off-the-shelf integrations can be achieved with a few clicks and the copy and paste of an ‘API key’ (a unique string of letters and numbers) from one app into another.
No programming required!
In days of old, achieving such integrations between apps would have involved programmers and significant investment. Not any more.
Switched on software platform developers like MailChimp and Xero, for example, invest heavily in making sure their apps can connect to others from day 1. Developers use a cloud software’s application programming interface (API) to make apps ‘talk to each other’. These progressive software firms start out with a “let’s connect to other apps” paradigm, which is the opposite of the out-dated “let’s keep everything inside our app” proprietary approach.
A telltale sign that a software company was not born with the cloud in its DNA is where their API is playing catch-up. You notice that with software companies that are trying to morph from the old server/desktop mentality into being SaaS providers.
But what about achieving integration between apps where there are no off-the-shelf integrations? In recent times, even this has become surprisingly easy to achieve.
Tune in next week for Three Easy Ways to Connect Your Cloud Apps, which looks at three online services that connect all types of cloud software for you.
Image credit: Kiplinger.com